Surfacing Courage

Most days of every summer growing up were spent at our neighborhood swimming pool. It was
the place to be, so my sister and I were there. We learned to swim there, we learned to save “Resusci-Annie’s” life with old-school CPR there, and we learned to overcome our fears there.

The smell of chlorine and boy cooties hovered heavy in the indoor pool. I preferred outside, but the diving boards were inside, and the eye-burning odor was just something I had to deal with. Everyday I saw the constant line of kids moving slowly up the ladders and to the edge of the planks until it was their turn to take the plunge. Sometimes there were squeals of joy and sometimes screams of fear. And sometimes there was just deafening silence until the big splash, followed by desperate gasps for air.

There were two diving boards at the Shadle Pool – the low dive and the high dive. Now, I had jumped off the low dive many times that summer and had lived through it, but the high dive was a different story. It was high! I’m talking 20 or 30 feet in the air and when you are not even 4 feet tall, that is the equivalent of a Manhattan skyscraper. I watched the lines and looked closely at the kids’ faces to see if I had what it took – if I had what they had – to make that giant jump. Most days, I decided I didn’t. What if it hurt? What if I chickened out? What if I died?

But in the intense intoxication of chlorine fumes on one hot August day, I made up my mind to try. I walked along the edge of the pool toward the lines, and when it came time to choose which line to stand in, I picked the one where the big kids were standing. The one for the death-defying high dive. There were dozens of kids ahead of me, and soon there were dozens of kids behind me too. Every step closer, I worried that I may have made the wrong choice of lines. There was a kid perched on each rung of the tallest ladder I had ever seen. And finally, it was my turn to climb up too. One rung. Three rungs. Ten rungs. And at that point, I realized that there was truly no turning back and the only way to get down was off that mile-high diving board.

Nobody had died before, that I was aware of. All the kids before me that day made it. And once I could see more than just the ankles ahead of me on the ladder, I started paying very close attention to how long they had to hold their breath and how they made it from the deep end where they couldn’t touch to the safe edge of the pool where they could hold on. I considered the fact that every kid there had saved that creepy plastic CPR dummy before, so if I needed it, they could probably save me too. And nobody hit their head on the board or tripped and fell off the side or changed their mind at the top causing everyone to know they were a big bawl baby. Nobody. They all survived. So why not me too?

The final paces to the end of the plank were a complete blur. All I could hear was the sound of my heart thumping through my throat. The twenty minutes in line seemed to go pretty quickly, but this moment, standing on the edge of death, seemed to last an eternity. Just one more step and the sandpapery surface of the board was no longer beneath my feet, but was soon replaced by the harshness of stinging water against my fragile skin. My eyes were closed so tightly that I began seeing a collidascope of bright colors, like when you rub them too hard. I struggled up through the resistance and thrust through the surface… ALIVE!

I had made it. I was officially a big kid through this terrifying right of passage. And that was the only time in my entire life that I ever jumped off the high dive.

That childhood experience took every bit of courage I could muster. And much like other acts of courage in my life, it began with the decision to take one brave step.

What act of courage do you recall from your own life when you hear my story?

What brave steps did you take to overcome your fears?

What is the next courageous endeavor in your life?

And what role will courage play in your planning process?


The brave members of Friends in Bloom are exploring “courage” during the month of September. We are celebrating our own every day versions of courage, and are examining ways that courage surfaces in our lives. We are committing to taking small steps toward goals, and are working to overcome the doubts and fears that get in the way of our progress.

Join us in our journey of courage this month! Simply take that first brave step.

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